Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What does the Office means by atrocity crimes?

The Office uses the expression “atrocity crimes” to refer to the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The expression helps distinguish these crimes from other crimes that also have an international component, such as illicit trade of human organs, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, money laundering, etc.

Q. Does the Office have a mandate to qualify past or current situations as genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes?

The Special Advisers do not have judicial or quasi-judicial powers. Therefore, they are not in a position to determine whether specific situations, either ongoing or from the past, legally qualify as the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Instead, they make assessments as to whether there is risk of any of those crimes occurring in a particular situation, with the objective of preventing or halting those crimes in case they are suspected to be already occurring.

Q.Does the Office investigate situations that could amount to atrocity crimes?

The Office gathers information on situations of concern in order to assess the risk of atrocity crimes, based on the criteria contained in the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes developed by the Office. In specific circumstances where information might be limited or not available, the Office may also undertake field missions to consolidate its analysis and understanding of specific situations of concern. However, the Office does not carry out criminal investigations on specific incidents, present or past.

Q. Which countries are the Special Advisers and the Office monitoring or more concerned about?

The Office monitors situations worldwide and works with Member States across all regions to develop national and regional prevention strategies. At times, when the risk of atrocity crimes in a specific situation is identified and deemed serious, the Special Advisers may decide to bring that situation to the attention of the Secretary-General and through him, to the Security Council. However, the focus of the Office’s mandates is always on prevention and for that reason, it works to build the resilience of Member States worldwide to atrocity crimes.

Q. Does the Office have field presences? If not, how does it obtain information to assess risk?

The Office has a small New York-based staff. However, it receives information from United Nations offices around the world, with which it also coordinates strategies to advance common objectives. The Office also receives information from regional and sub-regional organisations as well as international and national civil society organisations, as well as public sources. The Office verifies all information used for assessment purposes.

Q.Does the Office cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) or with national courts of justice?

The ICC is an independent judicial body that is not part of the UN. A Relationship Agreement between the UN and the ICC sets out the legal framework for cooperation between the two institutions on matters of mutual interest.

The Special Advisers and their Office are strong advocates of accountability for atrocity crimes, whether through national, regional or international judicial mechanisms. In addition to the importance of rendering justice to the victims of these crimes, accountability is seen a fundamental contributing factor to reconciliation and long term stability. The Special Advisers may in particular recommend that the UN Security Council refers specific situations to the ICC when they suspect that atrocity crimes might have occurred. However, the Office is not directly engaged in any criminal investigation that could be brought before a national or international jurisdiction.

Q.Are the Special Advisers the same as the Special Rapporteurs?

No, the Special Advisers are United Nations staff members that advise the Secretary-General directly on issues related to their mandate. On the other hand, the Special Rapporteurs are a mechanism of the Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures, and are appointed as independent experts.

Q.What kind of capacity-building activities does the Office organise?

One of the core functions of the Office is to build the capacity of the United Nations, Member States, regional and sub-regional organisations and civil society to strengthen prevention, early warning and response capacity through training and technical assistance. The Office has developed a range of activities with many partners worldwide, targeted to respond to specific needs and priorities. If you are interested in supporting or developing activities at the national or regional level on atrocity prevention, contact us at However, the Office does not organise workshops or seminars for the general public.

Q.I am an activist/student/teacher. How can I co-operate with the Office?

The Office welcomes the involvement of students and educational institutions in atrocity prevention studies and advocacy. There is a considerable amount of information available on our website that we invite you to explore and make use of to raise awareness of the precursors of atrocity crimes and the importance of prevention.

If there are any documents or information you would like to share with our Office, or concerns you would like to raise, please send us an email at